The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens from the groundbreaking 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, tells the story of Christopher, a fifteen-year-old boy who one night discovers his neighbor’s dog murdered in her yard and decides to investigate who is behind the gruesome death, digging up more family mysteries than he could have possibly imagined along the way. This production, directed by Marianne Elliott, is an extraordinary tour-de-force that combines fascinating lighting effects, innovative staging and levels of meta-narration to provide a telling glimpse into the world of autism.
True to the original novel, Christopher’s act of writing a book based on his experiences proves central to the plot, allowing other characters to pick up and read from it or even hide it for periods of time. The physical presence of the book onstage allows for a significant portion of the action and of Christopher’s thoughts to be narrated by his teacher, Siobhan (Niamh Cusack), and yet this device does not become cliche or uninteresting. Rather, it allows a boy who struggles to express himself to do so deeply and honestly, without having to say the words himself.
Luke Treadaway plays Christopher with a sincerity and steadfastness that would do Haddon proud, maintaining the centre around which the rest of the show revolves. Never faltering in his declarations of what he knows to be true and never holding back from showing us the ugliness of the boy’s meltdowns, Treadaway gives the audience a new insight on what the life of someone like Christopher must be like. Also assisting the actor are a series of dramatic light displays in moments of extreme stress and surreal, slow-motion movement sequences involving the whole cast during chaotic crowd scenes.
Despite the entire book and play being narrated from a single character’s point of view, the portrayals of other characters were remarkably nuanced and sympathetic. Christopher’s parents in particular are painfully relatable, sacrificing themselves and suffering constantly for the son they love. The only exception appeared to be Cusack’s Siobhan, who while serving as Christopher’s guiding voice throughout the play gave a surprisingly one-dimensional performance that provided no insight into her own struggles. The only thing that remained clear was her love for Christopher.
By the interval, it is clear that this play is no longer just about finding out what happened to a dead dog. It is about family and betrayal, ignorance and courage. It is about following your heart no matter how terrifying the path appears to be, and finding out that you can do anything if you try hard enough. It is about forgiveness, love and understanding, which hopefully each audience member gains a little bit of in the viewing of the performance. I know I did.